FIVE ZOMBIE CHARACTERISTICS TO CONSIDER
By Zane Bradey
While writing Aftereffects: Zombie Therapy, I had to cross the rickety bridge of a question ‘what is a zombie?’ This is my first, in a series of five blog posts called Writing a Zombie: Five Characteristics to Consider. The five topics I have chosen to touch on are origin, cognition, mobility, motivation, and weaknesses. Enjoy!
In my mind, origin can pertain to two things. First, where the hell did these things come from? Secondly, what type of zombie are you writing about? I wrote a blog on contagion versus undead zombies, and there are certainly other subtypes that I will not go into here. Although I think it’s really important that you have a type in mind to apply to the origin, for the sake of this blog I’ll divide them into two broad categories, “living zombies” and “undead zombies.”
Living Zombies and Origin:
An example of a living zombie would be those depicted in the films 28 Days and 28 Weeks Later. I also write living zombies in the Aftereffects series. They are usually people who were affected by something that caused them to take on the characteristics associated with being a zombie.
The living zombies, as the title implies, are alive. Their vital organs, although they may be altered by certain side effects of the root cause, are functioning. They need to eat and breathe to survive. I would add sleep to the list, but I know of at least one storyline where that is not the case.
The common origins of the living zombie are biological (viruses, bacteria, etc…). It is almost always an infectious disease that causes it. Many times the origin of the infection is left up to the imagination, but the symptoms and contagious nature of the disease are nearly always the same. When writing a zombie, this is a good starting place. Ask yourself ‘What made these zombies become zombies?’ Although the living zombie is the more recent addition to the types, many of the storylines have been reused to the point of exhaustion. As long as there are clever new writers, I firmly believe that “origin” is wide open enough for someone to step up and bring the next breath of fresh air into the genre.
Undead Zombies and Origin:
The origin of the undead zombie has a little more variety. The classic depiction of the nuclear plant spewing out dark smoke and green ooze has captured our imaginations for quite a while. In films and literature, there have been airborne viruses, diseases passed on by the bite of a walking corpse, and even religious implications for why the zombie horde has been brought forth to feed on humanity.
When depicting an origin for undead zombies, I suggest choosing between two polar opposite approaches. In many cases, authors focus their work on the details of origin, like a science fiction author might tackle world building. In other cases they are deliberately vague, giving the reader only enough information to justify or rationalize the events taking place. The Walking Dead is a good example of this. The origin or cause is deliberately left out of the story as a sort of bird crumb plot. It works well in both the comics and the television series.
I will end with a series of short questions that you can use to brainstorm ideas and flesh out the origin in your zombie writing:
- Was the source natural or manmade?
- If the source was manmade, was it accidental or intentional?
- Is it physiological, paranormal, neurological, or other?
- How does the impact of origin as you’ve written it alter the behavior of the zombies?
- How does the impact of origin as you’ve written it alter the behavior of the survivors?
Aftereffects: Zombie Therapy is available now at:
Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
And don’t forget to read his short story in April’s issue of
To learn more about Zane Bradey and his books, visit www.ZaneBradey.com.
I was born in Michigan, just outside of East Lansing, where I still live with my beautiful wife and six little zombies. Horror has always been my genre. I grew up waiting for the Saturday-morning Creature Feature. While other kids were watching Scooby –Doo, I was soaking up Vincent Price films. I like the new stuff, but I love the classics. I remember watching George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in black-and-white and thinking, ‘That’s what I want to write!’
My early writings were short stories, published in anthologies and young fiction magazines. I was even more successful with literary fiction, but my heart has always been in the horror classics and my mind has always been on zombies. In 2011, I set out to write my first zombie novel, Aftereffects: Zombie Therapy. I currently work in a mental health setting. Observing the cases of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder gave me the basic concept of living life as a cured zombie. With memories of terrifying events relived through flashbacks and nightmares, how do you live life after having been a zombie? You’ll have to read Aftereffects to find out.
Aside from being “the Zombie Guy,” I am a full-time husband, father, student, and HR and finance manager. I am currently working on a Master’s in Human Resources Management. I hope to find a job in HRD training, unless zombies start paying the bills. In that case, thank you zombies!!!